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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2007, 10:20 GMT
IVF watchdog 'played to cameras'
Mohamed Taranissi
Mr Taranissi is Britain's most successful test-tube baby doctor
The fertility watchdog has been criticised for "playing to the cameras" over an investigation into Britain's leading IVF clinic.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority carried out a raid on two clinics just hours before a Panorama investigation was broadcast.

Dr Evan Harris, MP, raised concerns about the "extremely unusual" HFEA involvement in the Panorama programme.

But the HFEA said there was no collusion.

The British Fertility Society said it intended to discuss the matter with the HFEA at the earliest opportunity.

Dr Allan Pacey, secretary of the British Fertility Society and senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield said: "The BFS has this morning been contacted by a number of its members expressing concern over the HFEA's involvement in the Panorama programme.

"The BFS does not advocate trial by television."

It's extremely unusual for an investigator, a regulator, to be seen to be cooperating with journalists in terms of releasing information about one of the people they are regulating
Dr Evan Harris, MP

IVF Undercover, which was broadcast on BBC One on Monday night, showed undercover footage from the Assisted Reproductive and Gynaecology Centre (ARGC), run by Mohamed Taranissi who has produced 2,300 babies in seven years.

Among the claims made by the programme were that he ran an unlicensed clinic from December 2005 for almost a year.

And one of the clinics was secretly filmed offering unproven treatment to women, potentially risking health.

Hours before the Panorama programme was broadcast, HFEA investigators made unannounced visits to two clinics run by Mr Taranissi, accompanied by police officers.

The HFEA said the visits were part of regulatory action and that it had been contacted by a whistleblower.

Impartial and objective

The HFEA has come under criticism for not doing enough to regulate fertility clinics.

IVF sample

But speaking on the Today programme on Radio 4, Dr Harris, who is a member of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, said that it was the job of the regulator to take criticism on the chin and "not appear to be playing to the cameras".

"I certainly think the Panorama programme raised some serious issues and they need to be investigated and I'm sure they will be investigated by the HFEA.

"But for the HFEA to do that and to investigate and work with all the other clinics it has to be seen to be impartial and objective.

"It's extremely unusual for an investigator, a regulator, to be seen to be cooperating with journalists in terms of releasing information about one of the people they are regulating and also to be giving interviews to that programme which is clearly an investigative journalist programme.

"I can't picture the Inland Revenue for example, if they were investigating a business, releasing information unbeknownst to the business that they were investigating to journalists, calling a press conference rather than just issuing a press statement saying that as we speak a raid is going on," he added.

But Angela McNab, chief executive of the HFEA said she could "absolutely guarantee" that the visits made to the clinic would have been made regardless of the timing of the Panorama programme.

"We have had concerns about the clinics for some time, quite separate to any media investigation and we have been pursuing a normal process with regards those concerns."

She added: "We are a public body and it is absolutely right and proper we should work in a transparent way.

"I would never want us to be running and organisation that was trying to keep information hidden, that wasn't being open and transparent."

Mr Taranissi, said the Panorama film included many factual inaccuracies, which he would be pursuing.

"It is not correct that the treatments on offer at my clinics are unproven - the treatments work, as shown by the fact that my clinics have consistently topped the HFEA's own league tables for success rates."

The HFEA denies 'playing to the cameras'



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